The shoulder known also as the deltoids is one of a few muscles that gets weaker the older you get. This is true for most muscles because it’s a use it or lose it deal. The shoulders’ mobility and strength allow you to do a lot of upper body stuff as they’re involved in almost all upper body movements.

The shoulders are somewhat of a miracle joint because it is a shallow ball and socket joint that has the incredible ability to move in multiple directions. This allows you to lift humongous weights, throw baseballs and footballs really hard or throw your arms up in disgust at a ref’s decision.

Here are the movements of the deltoids with an exercise example.

Shoulder Movement             Deltoid Muscle                Exercise Example             
Shoulder extension                 Posterior                            Dumbbell Pullover
Shoulder flexion                      Anterior                             Overhead Press
Shoulder abduction                 Middle                               Lateral Raise
Shoulder adduction                 Posterior                           Chin Up
Shoulder horizontal abduct  Middle & Posterior        Reverse Fly

But wait there is more.

The four muscles of the rotator cuff (SITS) work hard to keep this ball and socket joint in a vertical position no matter what position your shoulder is in. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that include

Supraspinatus. It holds the humerus in place and keeps your upper arm stable.

Infraspinatus Its function is to rotate and extend your shoulder.

Teres Minor  Its function is to assist with the rotation of the arm away from the body.

Subscapularis It holds your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade.

And the rotator and the deltoid muscles surround the shoulder joint to keep the head of your upper arm bone in the shallow socket of the shoulder.

Shoulders Should Get Hurt More But……

Shoulders really should get more hurt, but they don’t.

The shoulder joint is designed to have oodles of mobility which allows you to press, pull, throw, reach, and carry stuff. But the stability and strength of the shoulders are up to the muscles. Because when you have lots of mobility and limited strength, it’s a perfect recipe for shoulder injuries.

This is why it’s important to train the shoulders. Not just for vanity but health and performance too. And here are 5 exercises that do just that.

5 Shoulder Strength Exercises

Yes, there is a ton of shoulder exercises that will fit here but here are 5 which are in my and my client’s training to keep the shoulders looking and performing better.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise Pause Set

When doing the shoulder lateral raise, creating, and maintaining tension is paramount. Lateral raises are an easy way to add size and strength to your lateral shoulders, And more strength = more stability. Here you will do a certain number of reps say six reps and then pause for six seconds at the top. Then you’ll follow this sequence down to one rep and a one-second pause.

How To Do The Dumbbell Lateral Raise Pause Set

  1. This exercise is performed either seated or standing.
  2. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your side with your shoulders down and chest up.
  3. Perform six lateral raises with elbows slightly bent and not raising the dumbbells above shoulder height.
  4. On the sixth rep hold in the contracted position for six seconds.
  5. Then continue this rep/pause sequence down to one rep and one second.
  6. Flex or collapse

Programming Suggestion

Start with a lightweight because this exercise will catch up with you in a hurry. Performing one to two sets at the end of your training once a week works well.

Single-Arm Half Kneeling Landmine Press

Now landmine is a fancy way of saying angled barbell training. You wedge a barbell in a corner and off you go. The single-arm landmine press is a mix of vertical and horizontal exercise, which makes this great for people who lack shoulder mobility for overhead pressing. This trains the front deltoid, rotator cuff, and triceps and will help reduce strength imbalances between sides.

Now there is nothing wrong with barbell/dumbell overhead pressing if you can do it, the landmine press is just a good comprise I feel.

How To Do The Half-Kneeling Landmine Press

  1. Get into a half-kneeling position in front of the barbell, knee underneath hip, and ankle underneath the knee as demonstrated in the video.
  2. Hold the barbell at shoulder height in your hand nearest your back leg and grip the barbell. 
  3. Press up at about 45 degrees and reach towards the ceiling after your elbows are fully extended.
  4. Slowly lower down under control and repeat.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side

Programming Suggestion

This is a great exercise for strength and muscle. Working within the rep range of 8-16 reps and between 2 to four reps will have all your bases covered. Performing once or twice a week works well.

Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

The bottoms-up kettlebell press is a great exercise for improving rotator cuff strength and improving shoulder stability. The instability of holding a bottom-up KB increases the demand on your deltoids and rotator cuff to keep the KB from crashing down on your wrist.   Not only is it a great shoulder exercise training all three deltoid muscles, but it improves your pressing technique and grip strength too.

How To Do The Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

  1. You can perform this standing, half kneeling, or in the tall kneeling position.
  2. Grab lighter kettlebell bottoms up, have the horn directly above your wrist, and grip tight.
  3. Press up keeping the KB facing directly upwards and your elbow underneath the kettlebell.
  4. Lockout with the KB with your biceps close to your ear.
  5. Lower slowly to ensure you’re balancing the kettlebell with the bottom directly facing up.

Programming Suggestion

This exercise provides great intensity with less weight. Let your weaker side determine how much weight and reps you do. Anywhere from 3 to 4 sets of between 6-12 reps will give your shoulders all you can handle.

Stability Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly

The stability bent-over dumbbell reverse fly is great to add volume to your rear deltoid and is a great exercise for your upper back too. This means improved posture and better-looking shoulders.  When you hold the squat rack with one hand, you’ll strengthen imbalances between sides and the increased stability means you’ll be able to use more weight.

How To Do The Stability Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly

  1. Stand side onto a squat rack or something solid holding a dumbbell in the opposite hand.
  2. Hinge at the hips keeping your shoulders down and chest up.
  3. Keep a slight bend in the working elbow to take the stress off it a little.
  4. Perform a reverse fly until you feel it in your upper back and shoulders.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Programming Suggestions

Make sure you feel this in your hamstrings and not back. Because you’re holding on to something this allows you to go at least 5-pounds heavier than you think you can lift. Doing 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps works well here.

Dumbbell Overhead Carry

All carries are great, but the overhead carry takes carries to a whole new level. The dumbbell overhead carry puts your whole body under tension including all three deltoid heads and your rotator cuff. Any carry variation including this one puts serious time under tension on your shoulder for improved muscle and strength. Improved shoulder strength=better shoulder stability.

How To Do The Dumbbell Overhead Carry

  1. You can use one or two dumbbells here. If using on use approx. 25% of your bodyweight or whatever you can overhead press up comfortably. Two=50%
  2. Press the dumbbell(s) overhead.
  3. Keep your biceps behind your ears and keep your chest up and shoulders down.
  4. Take slow, deliberate steps, and pay attention to your gait and balance.
  5. Walk for 20 to 40 yards.
  6. Carefully bring down dumbbell(s) by your side and rerack.

Programming Suggestion

Carries take a ton of energy and grip strength and they’re best done at the start of your workout. Paring with any exercise that doesn’t require too much grip strength is the way I usually program these. For example,

1A. Push-up/ dumbbell press variation

1B. Dumbbell overhead carry 20-40 yards

Wrapping Up

Performing one or more of these 5 shoulder exercises at least once to twice a week will have your shoulders looking and performing better. All to better to flex with my pretty. Let’s go.

If you need advice on putting these into your workout or don’t know where to get started, you can reach me here.

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